The period comedy “Slack Bay” (Ma Loute) by Bruno Dumont is set on the Channel coast of northern France at the start of the 20th century, in a fishing village in which the have-not locals eye the invasion of wealthy holidaymakers each summer with mounting resentment.
But when the well-heeled interlopers begin vanishing during their afternoon strolls, two bumbling local constables fail to notice a ferryman’s family growing suspiciously stout.
After a fresh batch of “rich toffs” disappears, the ferryman’s wife is seen fishing through a bloody pot, offering up “a foot, or at least a big toe” to her four sons at the dinner table.
Binoche, who previously starred in Dumont’s harrowing biopic “Camille Claudel 1915”, plays the flamboyant mother of cross-dressing teenager Billie, who transgresses class lines by falling in love with the ferryman’s son.
Binoche’s character Aude belongs to the old Van Petegehem clan of the leisure class who have secured their standing with so much inbreeding that many of its members are deformed or degenerate.
“It’s capitalism,” Andre explains when the chief constable asks how the family came to be made up of blood relations who married each other to cement business ties.
In fact, Aude’s own hunchbacked brother Andre turns out to be the father of her child.
‘Getting ridiculous’ –
Binoche, who picked up an Academy Award for “The English Patient”, said she had fun with the slapstick and over-the-top theatrics of the movie.
“I love getting ridiculous,” Binoche told AFP about her rare comic role.
“I think it’s because I love taking a risk, jumping into the unknown without a net. And I like throwing out old conventions and everything that’s old hat.”
Dumont told reporters after a well-received press preview that it often took surreal stories “to show people who they really are”.
“We’re horrible people, but sometimes we’re good. We’re idiots and we’re geniuses,” he said. “Why not show all that in a film?”
Dumont, who scored a hit with the oddball 2014 television series “Li’l Quinquin” also set in northern France, said it was a regional tradition to send up the powerful.
“I spent all my youth at carnivals and we dressed up and wore masks, boys dressed as girls. We know that this is something important, looking beneath the mask, beyond these things that are larger than life to see the subtle things.”
Despite its setting on the French Riviera, a playground for air-kissing stars and billionaires, the Cannes festival prides itself on shining a spotlight on current social tensions.
This year’s edition is no exception and the yawning gulf between rich and poor dominated the first few days of global cinema’s premier showcase.
Two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster unveiled her mainstream genre directorial debut “Money Monster” starring George Clooney as a Wall Street television pundit taken hostage live on air by an “ordinary Joe” who has lost everything on the stock market.
And on Friday, left-wing activist filmmaker Ken Loach served up a searing indictment of British social welfare cuts with the tear-jerking drama “I, Daniel Blake”.
“Slack Bay” and “I, Daniel Blake” are among 21 films vying for the Cannes top prize, the Palme d’Or, to be presented on 22 May.